See the latest developments in the future of food from Big Idea Ventures and our global portfolio.

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In Asia, the agriculture and food industry will need to transform over the next decade in response to population growth and changing consumer requirements, as well as to other global challenges such as climate change and environmental degradation. Within Asia, Singapore is emerging as the agri-food tech capital, with its government investing $100 billion (US$72 billion) to prepare for the effects of both the current climate and Covid-19 situation. As an urban city-state with limited land space, Singapore is focused on buildings its capabilities in self-sufficiency and food security with a 30 by 30 strategy – producing 30% of the country’s nutritional needs locally by 2030. This presents an opportunity for agri-food tech companies to participate in the growth and innovation in this sector through R&D, best practices and strategic collaborations.

Together with Business Sweden, Embassy of Finland and the Intellectual Property Intermediary (IPI) of Singapore, we would like to invite you to this webinar where we will deep dive into the perspectives on the future of food for urban cities and discuss the agri-food tech opportunities present in Singapore.

China’s plant-based meat market is getting more crowded as domestic start-ups join international giants in a race to tap the growing middle class’ appetite for healthier food options.

One newcomer, Green Planet Foods aims to invest “billions of US dollars” – mostly to be funded by potential partners – in the next five years in the nascent sector in China, according to co-founder and CEO Klaus Petersen, a Beijing-based Danish premium food importer.

“China’s rising middle class is getting wealthier and has an immense appetite to try new things … there is a big shift toward [products that offer] health and wellness,” Petersen told the Post. “Our vision is to bring down the prices of plant-based food though innovation, scale and formulations.”

Green Planet’s other co-founders are Hong Kong-based private equity firm China Renaissance Capital Investment, headed by Mark Qiu Zilei, a former chief financial officer of state-backed offshore oil company CNOOC, and Singapore-based Ashok Vasudevan and his wife Meera, an American-Indian couple who built a multinational natural and organic food business.

The Singapore-headquartered company will initially be targeting young families in their 20s and 30s in big cities.

“We will be offering affordable food that can provide wellness instantly,” Vasudevan said. “And we will be going into different segments of the entire supply chain at the same time – from controlled environment agriculture, intermediate products and ready-to-eat products.

“Each project or product will get incubated or accelerated first at our design laboratory in Singapore [and] they can become independent once they are ready to be scaled up in China.”

China’s median disposable income per household climbed at a compound average annual rate of 6.9 per cent to 88,455 yuan (US$13,000) last year from 2015, according to Euromonitor International.

The nation’s meat substitutes retail market has grown at an average 7.7 per cent to US$10 billion last year over the same period, with the market research provider projecting a slower average growth of 3.7 per cent to US$11.9 billion in 2024 from last year.

Green Planet, which aims to launch Asian-developed alternatives to Western plant-based food products such as burgers, sausages and kebabs next year, is by no means the only firm taking localisation seriously.

Beijing-based Zhenmeat, founded by entrepreneur Vince Lu Zhongming, a University of Illinois materials science graduate, has been testing the market’s response to its “pork” tenderloin and “crayfish” at a hotpot restaurant chain in the city.

“We have been testing them for a month and surpassed our goal of matching customers’ orders of traditional meatballs. Our products achieved twice as many orders.”

His company recently raised several hundred thousand US dollars from New York-based Big Idea Ventures, giving a boost to its start-up capital of 5 million yuan.

China’s market potential has attracted other venture capital funds.

Hong Kong-based alternative protein venture capital fund Lever VC has invested in five alternative protein food start-ups – including one that is developing plant-based seafood – through its China Alternative Protein Fund launched early this year.

“We prioritise companies that bring innovative and delicious products and novel food technologies to China,” said Nina Ju, investment director of the Lever China Fund, which has received US$23 million of capital commitments in August, much of it from Asian family offices.

Lever VC was co-founded by industry veteran Nick Cooney, an early investor in plant-based and cultivated meat firms including California-based Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Memphis Meats.

“The China market is huge and can accommodate many players,” said Astrid Prajogo, founder of Shanghai-based HaoFood, an investee of Lever that is developing plant-based ground chicken.

While there are several vegans in the world, clean meat companies like Shiok Meats can be an option for meat lovers who are struggling to quit meat and looking for alternatives during their transition. Although not vegan, cell-based meats are sustainable ways to produce meat. Singapore-based Shiok Meats is a first-of-its-kind cell-based, clean meat company that aims to deliver delicious, crustacean meats (shrimp, crab, lobster) by harvesting from cells instead of animals. The company is all set to become the world’s first producer of commercially viable faux minced shrimp after it raised 92+ crores INR (12.6 million USD) in Series A funding led by sustainable aquaculture-focused fund, Aqua-Spark. Shiok, which means “delicious” in Singapore and Malay slang is the first cell-based meat company in Southeast Asia and the only cell-based meat company working on shrimp. It has plans to start production with cell-based shrimp, and is working to produce cell-based versions of lobster and crab. Shiok Meats has been developing lab-cultured shrimp cells as a substitute for shrimp meat (farmed and natural). The clean meat co. informed it has plans to use funds from the latest funding to build a commercial pilot production plant that is expected to start produce a faux minced shrimp product in 2022.

Among the products, it will first produce frozen cell-based shrimp meat for dumplings and other dishes. It also has plans to manufacture shrimp flavouring paste and powder, fully formed 3D shrimp, and cell-based lobster and cell-based crab products. The company is targeting consumers markets in Asia-Pacific region and U.S.A. Shiok Meats touts its cell-based shrimp, which it grows from stem cells in a serum-free media, as a “clean, traceable alternative to the shrimp farming industry”. Shiok claims that its patent-pending technology can grow crustaceans – including lobster and crab – four times faster than conventional production.

In order to drastically cut down the production cost of its faux minced shrimps from 300$/kg to 50$/kg by 2021, Shiok signed a deal to use new technology from Japanese cell-based meat company IntegriCulture. It believes the meat will be commercially palatable at 50$/kg, i.e. Rs 3,660/kg (approx.)

The latest capital came from investment fund Aqua-Spark that has invested in 20 complementary companies and technologies since its inception in 2011. It’s mission is to transform the global aquaculture industry into one that is healthier, more sustainable, and more accessible.

Investors in the funding round also include SEEDS Capital, the investment arm of Enterprise Singapore; Japan’s Real Tech Fund and Toyo Seikan Group Holdings; Iron Grey, a global tech investing family office based in South Korea; Yellowdog Empowers Fund; Singapore’s Ilshin Holdings and Makana Ventures; Veg Invest Trust; Beyond Impact; AiiM Partners; Kelvin Chan Siang Lim; and Alex Payne and Nicole Brodeur. The new funding comes three months after the company raised $3 million in a bridge-financing round led by Agronomics, a U.K.-based alternative meat investor; VegInvest, a U.S.-based slaughter-free investment firm; Impact Venture, a U.K.-based angel fund; and the UAE’s Mindshift Capital Fund.

Shiok Meats was founded by stem cell scientists Dr. Sandhya Sriram and Dr. Ka Yi Ling, who have 20+ years of experience combined in the fields of muscle, fat and stem cell biology. Dr Sandhya Sriram is the company’s CEO and Dr Ka Yi Ling the company’s Chief Scientific Officer.

Dr Ka Yi Ling & Dr Sandhya Sriram 

One of Shiok’s key objectives is to lower the cost of producing lab-grown shrimp. One lab-grown shrimp product produced by Shiok costs a hefty $300 to produce. Shiok wants to cut this to $50 per kilogram by 2021. It believes the meat will be commercially palatable at that price.

The Vegan Women Summit (VWS), an events and media organisation dedicated to upending the gender bias and discrimination in the food tech world, has just annouced the launch of VWS Pathfinder, the world’s first summit and pitch competition dedicated to plant-based female-identifying founders. The event, held this December, will feature leaders in venture capital, founder chats, panel discussions and aims to break down the fundraising challenges that female entrepreneurs face in the plant-based industry.

Taking place on December 5 virtually, VWS Pathfinder will be connecting female-identifying entrepreneurs in the plant-based food tech world with leaders in venture capital. The summit and pitch competition will see the top winner take home a prize worth US$50,000. The prize includes a US$10,000 cash reward sponsored by Purple Orange Ventures, US$35,000 worth of branding services from Evolution Bureau and more perks such as a global membership to WeWork office space. 

Applications for VWS Pathfinder are now open until October 23, with ten semi-finalists selected before the final five are announced on December 1.

VWS Pathfinder creates a platform to showcase and drive investment to these underfunded and overlooked up-and-coming founders, while bringing out the industry’s top leaders to inspire and educate this future generation. With founders and CEOs joining from five continents, we are proud to create the much needed amplification for these voices and will feature a lineup with more than two-thirds founders of color.

Jennifer Stojkovic, Founder of VWS

“Almost half of female founders and CEOs in the food tech industry have encountered bias, particularly gender bias, from investors, while nearly half of all female founders of color have experienced racial bias,” explained founder of VWS Jennifer Stojkovic, citing the findings of its recent survey on the pervasive gender inequalities that female founders continue to face, particularly in fundraising.

“VWS Pathfinder creates a platform to showcase and drive investment to these underfunded and overlooked up-and-coming founders, while bringing out the industry’s top leaders to inspire and educate this future generation. With founders and CEOs joining from five continents, we are proud to create the much needed amplification for these voices and will feature a lineup with more than two-thirds founders of color.”

By building a more inclusive, global ecosystem to empower, cultivate, and support female founders through VWS Pathfinder, we can bring more solutions to the table, move quicker to enact change, and create a kinder future for us all.

Miyoko Schinner, Founder of Miyoko’s Creamery

In addition to the pitch competition, the event will feature CEO panels, founder discussions and other programs that will showcase some of the world’s most recognisable names in the plant-based space, including Miyoko Schinner, the founder of Miyoko’s Creamery, CEO of Sunfed Meats Shama Sukul Lee, co-founder of Kinder Beauty Box Daniella Monet, Denise Woodard of Partake Foods and Green Queen’s founder and editor-in-chief Sonalie Figueiras.

“By building a more inclusive, global ecosystem to empower, cultivate, and support female founders through VWS Pathfinder, we can bring more solutions to the table, move quicker to enact change, and create a kinder future for us all,” said Schinner.

Matilda Ho, founder and managing director of Bits x Bites, Lisa Feria, the CEO of Stray Dog Capital, partner at Blue Horizon Ventures Dr. Regina Hecker and Dismatrix’s Miray Zaki will also be joining the summit as key players in the food tech VC ecosystem.

“It’s been proven that diverse teams deliver outsized returns and we fully support the female founders that are driving so many of these startups,” said Feria.

Among the sponsors of the event are a number of plant-based brands as well as VCs, including Upfield, the parent company behind multiple vegan butters and spreads, Miyoko’s Creamery, Califia Farms, VegInvest, Big Idea Ventures (BIV) and Vegan Capital.

Lead image courtesy of VWS.

The honey industry may not be the first industry that comes to mind when one is asked to name an unethical and unsustainable industry. Yet, in reality, there are over 20,000 species of bees that currently exist. However, most of these bee species that are native and wild are being pushed back by the notoriously invasive honey bee species that aid in honey production. In addition to being killed in the honey production process, bees face unethical treatments such as the smoking of bees and the clipping of the queen bees’ wings inside the beehives. 

We recently had the opportunity to have a chat with Darko Mandich. Darko is originally from Serbia, a country in Southeast Europe, who spent 8 years working in the European honey industry before realizing how unethical and unsustainable the industry is. Last year, he moved to California and co-founded MeliBio alongside Aaron Schaller. MeliBio is a Berkeley-based startup that focuses on creating a technology that will produce honey without the bees. Earlier this year, the company was backed by one of the most prominent venture capital firms and accelerators, Big Idea Ventures, which accelerated their growth. Thus, they are aiming to launch a product into the market by the end of next year.

1.We first knew of MeliBio a couple of months ago, and it was very mind-blowing for us looking at how innovative it is! Can you tell us more about MeliBio and your journey with it? 

MeliBio is looking to deliver a future that is better for the future and for the bees. For more than 9000 years now, humans have been consuming honey as one of the most amazing and powerful ingredients. Besides being a superior sweetener, honey comes with antibacterial, antioxidant attributes. It’s very positive for cardiovascular and cognitive health. However, we found out how unsustainable the current commercial beekeeping industry is.

Honeybee is one of the main bee species but not the only bee species. And with beehives multiplying all over the place, native and wild bees are being pushed back. Aligned with my personal mission as I became vegan, I also wanted to consume honey that is vegan, and therefore I decided to make real honey just without the bees and help humans to consume more of it and help the bees by reducing the pressure that they currently have from the commercial beekeeping.

2.You worked in the honey industry for a while. Do you think that the experience played a role in your realization of the unsustainability of the current honey industry? 

I spent almost 8 years in the European honey industry, and I had a chance to see how the industry works and meet all the different stakeholders in the industry. Unfortunately, out of all the farms, only around 2% are small beekeepers, which have a different treatment towards the bees than commercial large-scale industrial beekeeping. During that time, I only thought of producing more beehives and honey. But only recently did I come across the latest studies showing that actually there are so many other bee species out there. There are around 20,000 bee species, and honey bees behave like an invasive species. They push back the native and wild species.

There’s also a pathogen spillover happening when the big trucks with bees are moving all around the place. When I looked into this, it really changed my mind because I was really surprised. I discovered an entirely new world that wasn’t known to me, and that was how the idea for MeliBio was born. I was fortunate enough to come from the traditional honey industry because I know the industry and I can really help this industry by taking it in an ethical approach for the future because current unethical practices include smoking the bees and clipping their wings.

3.There are vegan alternatives to honey, such as agave that have been in the market for a long time. How is your product different from the typical vegan honey alternatives? 

We believe the products that we grew up consuming that we have familiar tastes and occasions. We believe that the future should contain all these products, but the future shouldn’t be relying on animals to produce them. We believe that honey is an exceptional product, but we don’t underestimate other products’ power because every product has a specific strength.

However, we see honey as a superior product because it also contains impressive flavonoids, amino acids, and a little bit of protein beyond just the fructose and glucose. And to everyone, especially the vegan population, we believe in providing them with an opportunity to consume honey as if they came from bees. While we believe that products shouldn’t be competing among themselves, we believe that honey is not replaceable by anything else. It’s just that how it’s produced should be kind, ethical, efficient, and innovative.

4.With so many labels such as plant-based, cell-based, etc. in the industry right now, what would be the best way to describe the honey product MeliBio is making? 

One of the most important things with honey is that actually, it comes from plants. So, in a way, we can say that it is kind of plant-based. And we are actually working on some plant-based honey prototypes. But down the road, what we are looking for is just making honey without the bees, regardless of the approach. We believe that the perfect future food products will be made of several disciplines to create unique products that customers would love while helping sustainable development goals and meeting the functional needs.

5.MeliBio was backed by Big Idea Ventures a few months ago. Can you tell us more about that experience? And how have things changed since the investment? 

Big Idea Ventures is one of the most memorable experiences I have in my life. I’ve never had an opportunity before to be accelerated in a couple of months. The network of people in the BIV community is really unique. My co-founder, Aaron Schaller, and I were challenged, inspired, helped, and supported by notable scientists, business people, and experts from various fields. They helped us navigate our venture into the future. I was amazed by the level of dedication and interest they showed us and how they excellently shaped us.

6.How has Covid-19 affected your company? If so, how has MeliBio adapted to all the changes? 

We’ve seen opportunities and challenges. I’d start with opportunities because I think that we received an acceleration worth of a couple of years compressed into half a year. And there are just fantastic opportunities to get on the call with investors from Singapore, Europe, and all over the world. We can also get mentoring lessons on Zoom, which was really an important thing that helped us accelerate better.

On the other hand, we had challenges with the R&D process because our work in the lab was delayed a little bit. But thanks to our partners at the Cell Valley Labs in Berkeley, they adapted to the situation quickly and catered to us wonderfully with all the safety measures in check. At the end of the day, I’m thrilled that because of the dedication of Aaron and the days he spent in the lab, we are on track with the plans that we had before the accelerator program.

7.You are originally from Serbia. Why did you decide to move to the United States, specifically the San Francisco Bay Area? 

I always wanted to be in an environment that questions everything and join the community making all these unbelievable efforts to make the world a better place. I’ve always followed the tech industry, but only after following the biotech industry did I realize how vital the industry is. I came here with an open heart and an open mind, and I was fortunate enough to meet my co-founder a couple of weeks after I arrived in San Francisco. And I like the spirit of California, the spirit of trying to find better, more efficient ways to help everyone across the board.

8.You recently published the State of the Bees report. May we know what it is about? And where will we be able to access the report? 

I believe that the report is one of the most comprehensive reports that provide the opportunity for people to realize the relationship we have with the bees, what are different bees, how they interact with each other, and how the honey production and pollination are not helping them because of the pressure that we as humans put on them. We want to be the piece of the puzzle taking care of the bees, honey, and facilitate the conversation because we believe that the bees deserve a much bigger conversation.

Photo Source: MeliBio, Inc.

Cheese is the third-largest food contributor to climate change after beef and lamb. One pound of cheese requires 10 pounds of milk to produce and creates 30 pounds of CO2, so a pizzeria’s yearly cheese supply generates about a ton of CO2 a year. Offering a plant-based cheese option is a solution to this problem.

In honor of National Pizza Month, the team at Pleese Foods invites everyone to try a vegan cheese option this October. Now available at 6 locations across the country and counting, the vegan-friendly brand is spreading awareness on the importance of considering a plant-based option as the main topping to your favorite slice.

“My wife, Abev, and I founded Pleese Foods because as New Yorkers our biggest struggle in adopting a plant based diet was not being able to grab a slice of pizza from our favorite pizzerias.” Said Kobi Regev, Co-Founder/CEO of Pleese Foods.

Made from a proprietary blend of white bean, Pleese Cheese is differentiating itself from the cow’s milk products and the soy, seed, and nut alternatives that can trigger allergies.

“We developed Pleese to be allergen friendly because Abev is a teacher and she noticed that too many of her students had issues with dairy, soy and nut products. We wanted our products to be safe for schools and not to exclude anyone based on a particular dietary restriction.”

Pleese Cheese is already helping disrupt the environmental factors in this industry with a plant-based product, but it chooses to do more to help. The brand recently partnered with the National Forest Foundation to donate 1,000 trees to be planted in National Forests across the country. For every case the company sells, one tree will be planted with the organization moving forward.

“Planting trees through the national forest foundation is important to our company because we care about the planet. After learning how detrimental the dairy industry is to climate change, we decided that planting trees would make a meaningful impact and that’s how we decided to use a portion of our proceeds to help mitigate climate change.”

As we’ve become more aware of what we eat, having vegan options is important to independently-owned businesses because they translate to more sales. For the owners who think these offerings are too expensive or difficult to add their menus, Pleese Cheese wants to provide them with an easy option.

Expect to find Pleese Cheese at three locations in New York City — Tavola Hell’s Kitchen, Vito’s Slices and Ices, and Koronet’s Upper East Side in Austin at Lil and Big Nonna’s, in Atlanta at Plant Based Pizzeria, in Provo at Fat Daddy’s and they’re planning to expand distribution to the West Coast early October. The team at Pleese Foods encourages all Pizza lovers to say “Yes, Pleese” to a vegan-friendly cheese option this National Pizza Month.

Want to try Pleese Cheese at a pizzeria near you? Direct your favorite pizzeria to the Say Pleese Website and the restaurant will get a free sample of Pleese. To learn more about Pleese Cheese, visit

About Pleese Foods: Started by a team of New Yorkers, the company is the creator of Pleese Cheese, the allergy-friendly, plant-based alternative free of dairy, lactose, soy, nuts, gluten, palm oil, and cholesterol. Developed to melt perfectly on pizza, burgers, sandwiches and more, it’s an exceptional alternative to traditional cheese for consumers and it gives the restaurant industry a unique option anyone can consume and enjoy.

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